Laurie J. Oppel: Expert Witness

Sept. 17, 2007
As a consultant, Laurie J. Oppel has played many roles, including expert witness, advisor, project manager and instructor.

As a consultant, Laurie J. Oppel has played many roles, including expert witness, advisor, project manager and instructor. Oppel, of Navigant Consulting, Inc., has provided expert testimony on various transmission issues and asset valuations such as energy market structures, damages resulting from construction or operational disputes, right-of-way valuations, capital planning and budgeting, needs assessments, good utility practices, and electric and magnetic field evaluations. She has provided testimony in more than 15 regulatory proceedings and seven commercial litigation proceedings, working with clients such as Edison Electric Institute, PSEG Power, and Long Island Power Authority.

As an advisor and project manager, she has approximately 20 years of experience with major domestic and international electric utilities and industrials. She currently manages Navigant Consulting’s Energy Practice’s Litigation, Regulatory, and Markets group. Oppel has a long list of accomplishments and has contributed 30 publications.

Oppel has also been an instructor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks teaching undergraduate electrical engineering courses and taught several industry courses while at PTI. Her various industry experiences will be evident when she presents a course at the T&D University in October on “hardening the grid.” The workshop will introduce a structured approach toward developing policies and plans aimed at preparing the grid to better withstand severe storms. The approach will focus on three key dimensions:

  • Durability: The ability to withstand severe storms without damage.
  • Resilience: The ability to continue service despite some system damage.
  • Restoration: The time necessary to recover when service is disrupted.

Workshop participants will explore and discuss storm hardening in terms of these three dimensions. Each dimension offers a variety of opportunities to improve utility performance. By the end of the workshop, participants will understand the fundamental goals of each storm hardening dimension, alternative means of achieving improvement in each, and the trade-offs necessary to define an integrated plan incorporating the dimensions of storm hardening.

Oppel will teach the course along with Michael D. Hervey, vice president of operations at the Long Island Power Authority.

“With the aging infrastructure and increased vulnerability of the grid to weather-related (and security) events, it’s important to wisely spend capital investment dollars,” Oppel said. “By adopting a desire to increase the ability of the grid to withstand severe events, these modifications can be incorporated into the normal course of capital and O&M spending. Therefore, developing a 10- or 20-year program of targeted enhancements will typically result in minimal rate impacts on customers.”

Other workshops that Oppel has taught in the past include asset management, T&D outsourcing, and electromagnetic fields from underground cables. In October, she is also presenting at three other conferences: Gulf Coast Power Association (in Austin, Texas) where she is giving a paper on lessons learned in nodal markets; a law firm conference where she is chairing a session on greenhouse gas issues; and Platts Financing Power where she is chairing a session on trends in power plant financing including hurdles, drivers, and structures.

Oppel said that the energy industry is a great market to be in. “There is a lot of interesting work assisting clients with responding to a changing marketplace and assisting them in optimizing their business,” she said. She also enjoys recruiting “great people, particularly young consultants who share in the excitement of the changes taking place in our industry.”

Oppel decided to go into engineering while she was a junior in college earning her mathematics degree. “I wanted a way to apply the mathematics training,” she said.

She went right into consulting after college. “Consulting was a natural choice for me out of college, as I had done research and worked with the Alaska Utilities as part of my undergraduate work and my masters’ thesis.”

Oppel has been with Navigant Consulting for about eight years, and has been a managing director four of those years. She currently manages the Litigation, Regulatory, & Markets group in the Energy Practice. The focus of the Litigation, Regulatory, & Markets group is to provide testimony, authoritative studies and advisory services to inform business, regulatory, and policy-makers and help resolve commercial disputes through experienced and trained leadership provided by credentialed, independent, and capable individuals. We assist clients in evaluating and understanding the impact on their business resulting from market rules and dynamics, market participation strategies, policy development and regulatory requirements. In addition, this group provides the concepts and insights, analytical techniques, and implementation capabilities necessary to understand and address the energy industry’s regulatory implications and requirements and litigation challenges.
Navigant Consulting assists companies and their legal counsel in enhancing stakeholder value, improving operations, and addressing the challenges of uncertainty, risk, and significant business model change. Professional services include dispute, investigative, operational and business advisory, risk management and regulatory advisory, and transaction advisory solutions. It is headquartered in Chicago and has 1800 consultants in 40 cities in North America, Europe and Asia.

Oppel is assigned “virtually” to the Washington, DC, office of Navigant Consulting, but as a consultant, she “has the luxury” of working out of her home office in Tennessee on Norris Lake when otherwise not at a client site or one of our other offices, she said. This allows her to enjoy water recreation in her spare time. But she also spends “spare time” keeping abreast of market issues by reading industry news and FERC filings.

Her advice to others is to “do what you love, and that it’s OK to make mistakes, as long as you catch them before anyone else does.”

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